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Children
Having a child with special needs can be challenging and rewarding. There are numerous resources in our community to support you … you are not alone. If you have a child with special needs, or suspect that your child may be experiencing developmental delays, this section will connect you with local community resources and information to help you and your child along your journey.
 
As a parent, you know your child best. If your child is not meeting the milestones for his or her age, or if you think there could be a problem with the way your child plays, learns, speaks, or acts, talk to your child’s doctor and share your concerns -- don’t wait. Recognizing and addressing problems early gives children the best opportunity to overcome these challenges.
  • Developmental Screenings - provide a quick and simple way to monitor a child’s healthy development. Click on the Your Growing Child of this site to learn more. Two national websites, Learn the Signs, Act Early and First Signs, allow parents to learn more about their child’s developmental stages. For tips on sharing concerns about a child’s development, click here. If you and your child (between the ages birth - 5yrs.) live in Sarasota, click here to complete a screening and see if your child is on track.
  • The Gulf Central Early Steps Program through Sarasota Memorial Health Care System, assures that early intervention services and supports are available to children with developmental delays from birth to 36 months of age.
  • The Florida Center for Child and Family Development, located in Sarasota County, employs a comprehensive, family-centered team approach to support the development of infants, toddlers, and young children.
  • Florida Diagnostic Learning Resource System (FDLRS) - is funded by the State of Florida, Department of Education, Division of Public Schools and Community Education, Bureau of Instructional Support and Community Services, through federal assistance under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  The FDLRS Suncoast Associate Center, housed at the Sarasota County School Board complex, supports local and state initiatives such as inclusion, technology, parental involvement and empowerment, integrated staff development and collaborative Child Find services. Child Find assists in identifying and obtaining services for children who have disabilities or special needs by screening children and youth to determine if they need to be formally evaluated. The Child Find Program also provides coordination, training, and support to assist service providers in evaluating children and youth.
  • English for Speakers of Other Languages Parent Outreach (ESOL) - offers support services for ESOL students and parents by facilitating: communication between home, school, and the ESOL department, encouraging active and ongoing parent involvement in their children's education, and helping families access to community services and resources.
  • Center for Autism Resources and Education (C.A.R.E.) is a nonprofit organization serving families from Sarasota or Manatee County focused on meeting the ever-growing needs of our community members who are facing autism spectrum and other related disorders.
  • The Center for Autism & Related Disabilities at the University of South Florida is a community-based project that provides information and consultation to individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders and related disabilities.

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Finding the appropriate educational setting and services for children can be challenging but fortunately there are organizations and programs available to help you.
  • Sarasota County Schools Child Find assists in locating, identifying, and obtaining services for children who have disabilities or special needs.
  • Florida Inclusion Network provides learning opportunities, consultation, information and support to educators, families, and community members resulting in the inclusion of all students.
  • McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program provides students with special needs in the State of Florida, the opportunity to attend a participating private school. The McKay Scholarships Program also offers parents public school choice. A parent of a student with special needs who is dissatisfied with the student’s current school may choose to transfer the student to another public school. 
  • The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) is the largest international professional organization dedicated to improving the educational success of individuals with disabilities and/or gifts and talents.

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According to Webster’s dictionary an ADVOCATE is “Someone who speaks for another person or their cause”. Many children with disabilities and special needs are either too young or are unable to speak for themselves. That is when parents, guardians, and caregivers must become their child’s advocate and step in to become their voice.
  • Family Network on Disabilities of Manatee/Sarasota, Inc. through their HOPE (Helping Out Parents in Education) Program provides trained parent advocates/mentors to assist in understanding your child's rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  They will show you how to access appropriate supports and services your child is entitled to in order to be provided a Free and  Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) through your local school district along with other proven techniques and strategies to assist you and your child in having a successful educational experience. 
  • Advocacy Center for Persons with Disabilities provides advocacy services to advance the quality of life, dignity, equality, self-determination, and freedom of choice of persons with disabilities through collaboration, education, advocacy, as well as legal and legislative strategies.  The Advocacy Center for Persons with Disabilities, Inc. is the official, Governor-designated protection and advocacy system for the State of Florida. The Advocacy Center has authority and responsibility under eight federal programs.
  • Wrights Law Special Education and Advocacy Services offers parents, educators, advocates, and attorneys accurate, reliable information about special education law and advocacy for children with disabilities.   Begin your search in the Advocacy Libraries and Law Libraries. You will find thousands of articles, cases, and resources about dozens of topics concerning advocacy and special education.  Sign up for their awesome newsletter - Special Ed Advocate today.
  • A Parent & Student Advocacy Program (CLASS) Community Liaison for Achieving Student Success is an advocacy program designed to assist families attempting to negotiate, mediate, or reconcile their child's school related problems.  CLASS is a free service to all parents/guardians/students.
  • If your child with an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) is having trouble with bullying, the following links may be helpful:
    Suite101 discusses teaching children with Asperger's Syndrome to identify teasing and intimidation.
    The Interactive Autism Network explores how ASD children are particularly at risk of becoming victims of bullying. It also discusses how they may act out in a way that leads to their being identified as bullies.
    Your Little Professor writes, "If your child appears under extreme stress, if he is missing school because of headaches and stomachaches, if he has physical injuries and torn clothing, he may be a victim of bullying." Read more at the link.
    My Aspergers Child details reasons why people (particularly children) with Asperger's Syndrome are such easy targets for being bullied.

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Do you need help finding services for your child who has a disability or other special health care needs? Click on the following links for more information on services for your child and family.
  • Family Network on Disabilities of Manatee/Sarasota, Inc. is an alliance of parents, professionals and community members interested in helping families with children who have special needs and disabilities. Visit this site for a listing of area resources.
  • The Florida Directory of Early Childhood Services (Central Directory) has provided services to thousands of families and providers seeking advocacy, education, training, resource and referral, and information on disability services available in their communities. 
  • Wrights Law Yellow Pages for Kids helps families find educational consultants, psychologists, educational diagnosticians, health care providers, academic therapists, tutors, speech language therapists, occupational therapists, coaches, advocates, and attorneys for children with disabilities.
  • The National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY). We serve the nation as a central source of information on: disabilities in infants, toddlers,   children, and youth, IDEA (the law authorizing special education), No Child Left Behind  (as it relates to children with disabilities), and Research-based information on effective  educational practices. NICHCY en Español 
  • Health Insurance: Children's Medical Services Network (CMS) provides health insurance coverage for children with special needs who have no insurance or who are under insured for their condition. CMS Network eligibility is based on the child's age, clinical condition, and the family's income. The CMS Network is one of four Florida KidCare Program options. Families who meet the eligibility requirements for Title XIX Medicaid or Title XXI KidCare and whose child has a special health care need qualify for the CMS Network health benefits package.
  • The Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) works in partnership with local communities and private providers to assist people who have developmental disabilities and their families.
  • All Children's Hospital is the only specialty licensed children's hospital on Florida's   west coast. Founded in 1926, All Children's has grown into a leading pediatric referral center that is dedicated to advancing treatment, education, research and advocacy in child health.
  • Children's Medical Service has a collection of programs for children with special needs. Each one of the programs and services are family-centered and designed to help children with a variety of conditions and needs.
  • Tidewell Hopsice Children's Services - Partners in Care-Together For Kids (PIC-TFK) is a program that offers specialized palliative care support services for children and adolescents up to the age of 21. These services provide comfort for both your child and your family. You can access these services in addition to the medical services that you are already receiving through the Children's Medical Services (CMS) Network. The program will help you get the information and support you need to make decisions that are best for your child and family. You keep your CMS doctor and your care coordinator.
  • Social Security Administration - The Social Security Administration determines eligibility for the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. Children from birth up to age 18 may get Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. They must be disabled and have little or no income and resources.  Med Waivers-Home and Community-Based Services Waivers programs are the federally approved Medicaid programs authorized by Title XIX of the Social Security Act, Section 1915(c) that provide services in the home for persons who would otherwise require institutional care in a hospital, nursing facility, or intermediate care facility.  Click here for Disability Starter Kits
  • Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) - Medicaid is the state and federal partnership that provides health coverage for selected categories of people with low income. Its purpose is to improve the health of people who might otherwise go without medical care for themselves and their children. Individuals receiving SSI are also eligible for Medicaid.
  • ValueOptions® is a managed care company that specializes in management for all behavioral health issues. The organization provides clinical operations and oversight for pre-paid mental health Medicaid.
  • Community Haven programs are designed to empower individuals (adults and children) with disabilities to be independent.
  • Epilepsy Foundation of Florida serves as the lead advocate for the rights and needs of people with epilepsy and seizure disorders at the local, county and state level. EFOF provides many valuable services to individuals and their families, regardless of their financial situation, including: Advocacy, Case Management, Information, Referral, Support, Medical Services, Neuropsychological Services, Counseling, Resources, Support Groups and Children's Camp.
  • The Division of Blind Services is Florida's state agency responsible for ensuring that people of all ages in the state who are blind or visually impaired can live independently and achieve their goals.
  • Face Autism is committed to provide Autism/ASD screenings and funding for therapeutic interventions for children with autism, regardless of their financial ability to pay.
  • Easter Seals of Southwest Florida is an organization offering help and hope to children with disabilities and their families. The mission has grown along with the community and services have been  expanded to reach across the lifespan, from birth through adulthood.
  • United Cerebral Palsy Sarasota-Manatee Inc. serves the community by providing a full array of beneficial services and resources to individuals with disabilities and their families and by advocating their full independence, productivity, and citizenship.
  • Sun Coast Center for Independent Living is a nonprofit, non-residential organization dedicated to helping people with disabilities achieve their full potential.  SCIL provides the professional support and services to help individuals with all types of disabilities develop the necessary skills to live independently and to thrive within the community. The independent living services provided by SCIL give people with disabilities the choices and resources they need to take control of their lives. No cost or age requirements.
  • Southeastern Guide Dogs offers three programs for people who have disabilities: Paws for Independence, Paws for Patriots and Gifted Canines. These programs match highly trained guide dogs with individuals with disabilities, providing the gift of an independent lifestyle.
  • Light House for Manasota exists to advance the individual growth and independence of adults and children with vision loss. Light House Manasota is committed to extending our educational and training resources in the community and promoting advocacy of and for adults and children with vision loss.
  • The Community Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (CCDHH) a non-profit organization, offers a wide range of services and programs for Deaf, Hard of Hearing, late deafened, deaf blind, speech impaired, and hearing individuals to make it possible for all to communicate in the community.
  • Bookshare - People with visual impairments, physical disabilities and/or learning disabilities can look to Bookshare to dramatically increase the quantity and timely availability of books and newspapers in accessible formats. Further, Bookshare's vision encompasses new technological developments as well as new applications of widely available technologies to stretch the power of technology for increased access to content.
  • National Alliance Mental Illness (NAMI) of Florida is dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness. NAMI offers an array of programs, initiatives and activities
  • Manasota Bringing Up Down Sydrome  is a community resource in Sarasota/Manatee counties that is focused solely on individuals with Down syndrome, their friends, and family. BUDS offers a vast array of information on Down syndrome, events, workshops, support groups, etc.
  • The Annual Family Cafe provides a unique environment where families can connect with peers, commercial service providers, and public entities to find out what services are available, which programs best meet their needs, and how to secure the services.
  • Venice Buddy Break offers a free respite program and child directed activities for special needs children one Saturday per month.
  • Conductive Education is an intensive, multidisciplinary approach to education for children with motor challenges. Over the past 9 years, CECO has expanded our programs to include services needed by our children and families. They offer a full school day program, youngster program, summer camp and after school programs. All of our programs feature Conductive Education, a unique combination of education and therapy developed in 1945 Hungary to help children with disabilities gain independence.

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Children need time to play with others, assert their independence, and build their self esteem. Traditional settings for recreational activities often can not accommodate children with special needs. The following resources will help you find fun activities for your child and provide an opportunity for them to grow and learn.
  • Adaptive Golf Foundation of America has programs for Able, and disabled juniors and young adults aged 5 thru 18.
  • Dream Oaks Camp provides fun, educational, and recreational experiences in an outdoor camp environment to enhance the lives of children ages 7-17 with physical and developmental disabilities and serious illnesses.
  • Camp Fish Tales provides a unique camping atmosphere for those with special challenges. Camp Fish Tale provides a camping environment that respects and encourages the potential of each individual.
  • Miracle League of Manasota is an affiliate of the National Miracle League Association joins more than 200 communities around the world that provide opportunities for disabled children to play baseball.
  • Make A Wish Foundation grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy. 
  • Sarasota Manatee Association for Riding Therapy (SMART) provides an all encompassing horsemanship program---where participants learn to groom and tack up their horses, ride to the utmost of their ability, and care for their horses afterwards. All of these horsemanship skills provide the participant with many physical, emotional and cognitive benefits!
  • Special Day Foundation enriches the lives of special needs children and adults through nature-based opportunities in recreation/social experiences and specialized dental services, one Special Day at a time. 
  • Sarasota Special Olympics provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for persons eight years of age and older with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.
    Sarasota Parks and Recreation Therapeutic Recreation Program welcomes individuals of varying abilities to participate in our programs and to visit our parks. Sarasota County Parks and Recreation strives to offer programs designed for individuals with special needs as well as offering an inclusive approach to all recreation.
  • In-Stride Therapeutic Riding, Inc. provides recreational horseback riding with therapeutic benefits to children and adults with disabilities
  • Young Athletes Program is an innovative sports play program for children ages 2-7 with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their peers, designed to introduce them into the world of sports. Children with and without intellectual disabilities can participate in a Young Athletes Program activity and mutually learn from and enjoy each other.

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